Glee has a problem with bullying.
We don’t mean “has a problem” in the “doesn’t like it and wants to confront it” it sense, although the show is desperate for you to see it that way. No, we mean Glee has a problem with bullying in that they want to appear as the stalwarts in the fight against teen bullying except they’ve used bullying as a source of comedy since the show began. Put more bluntly (and in a more damning manner): Glee thinks bullying is hilarious until someone bullies a gay character.
This was always the case with this show. It was hilarious to throw Kurt into a dumpster in the first episode because he hadn’t identified as gay yet (even if it was ridiculously obvious to anyone with a head). It continued to be hilarious to throw Slushees in his face and call him demeaning nicknames all through most of the first season. Then Kurt came out of the closet and nary an unkind word or action was allowed against his person. To be fair, the point Glee clumsily tried to make last season with the Kurt storyline was that the bullying from Karofsky had taken a decidedly darker and potentially more violent turn, which made it a bit more dangerous than a Slushee or even a slur. Fine. It was badly handled, but we understood what they were trying to do. But with Santana, we have a character who has gradually become harsher and harsher to the people around her and by the time she dropped that Sue Sylvester-esque insult bomb on Finn in the hallway, we found ourselves in the curious position of cheering Finn on for using her own self-loathing over her sexuality as a defense against her.
We don’t think there was anything remotely bad about what Finn said to Santana. Can we just stop here and say how weird it is that the gays at McKinley keep needling Finn until he lashes out and hurts them? Couldn’t the writers have come up with a different foil for Santana? It’s almost making Finn look anti-gay as a character and we doubt that was the intent. But Santana surely deserved to be taken to task by Finn and he was completely dead-on to point out that all her anger and ugliness was coming from a place of self-loathing. It’s been fairly clear for some time now that the school knows about Santana, so we don’t actually consider what Finn did “outing” her.
No, what bothers us is that right up until the moment Finn dropped the L Word on her, all of Santana’s nastiness was treated like a joke. And to be fair, she does get some incredibly funny lines. But it’s a poor way to discuss bullying to have your victim be a bully herself and expect the audience to feel for her when a tiny little bit of what she’s been dishing out to everyone around her finally lands back on her. That final musical number was devastating, and Naya Rivera played her emotional turmoil beautifully, but it’s a little hard – even as gay people ourselves – to not think that she deserved some sort of blowback for the way she treats everyone. Should she be outed in a political ad? Of course not. But we’ll be mighty pissed if Finn is forced to beg forgiveness for what happened to her.
And did anyone else think Kurt’s campaign pledge to ban dodgeball was supposed to be a joke until you realized they were playing it, you’ll pardon the term, straight? We don’t know, maybe dodgeball is a scourge across the land, but the preachy seriousness with which that scene was played illustrates perfectly how the message-oriented storytelling for the gay characters on this show tends to pretty much ruin them. Where’s the sassy, stylish, biting kid from the first season? Who is this prissy, preachy, humorless person in clothes so ridiculous they border on drag? If Santana’s arc followed Kurt’s exactly, she’ll be in flannel and birkenstocks before graduation, have no sense of humor about anything, and will constantly lecture everyone around her in a faux-tired, faux-wounded tone of voice. Bleh. We want to see them tackle the gay kid stuff because they’re in such a uniquely perfect position to do so, but we wish they’d lighten the fuck up a bit. Teen bullying is a very serious problem, no doubt about it. But anti-gay teen bullying is where the show tends to work against itself, going from biting social commentary to preachy message-oriented storytelling without ever once stopping to consider how uneven they’re being on the whole thing.
What else happened? Oh, right. “Hot for Teacher.” Who didn’t see that number (and plotline) coming? Bored now – but the number was great. The other numbers in between the great opening and great closing, however, were lame as hell. We suppose the Hall & Oates mashup was meant to illustrate how dorky New Directions is compared to the Troubletones, but it was played so straight we’re not sure that was the intent. In addition, the Blondie/Pat Benatar mashup, while inspired, also didn’t come off as well as it could have.
And finally, we’re disappointed with how the whole Sue candidacy is playing out. Those attack ads against Burt were ridiculous – and not in a very good way. We live in an extremely divided, politically ugly period right now in America and Glee could have had a lot of fun parodying the campaign and electoral process as we know it. Instead, we got these ads that were so far out of the bounds of reality that they became essentially meaningless. Yes, attack ads are terrible things and ripe for parody, but “Burt Hummel married a donkey” is Saturday morning cartoon-style comedy. It’s so off-base that it fails as parody and yet another grand opportunity gets wasted by the writers.
We sound like we hated the episode. We didn’t. We just get annoyed with the constant missed opportunities or seizure-inducing tonal shifts. The scripts are still tighter now than they were a year ago, but the show is probably always going to have a problem straddling that line between cynicism and earnestness.